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A divided reopening: Australia's uneven Covid spread makes states wary of lifting lockdowns

A divided reopening: Australia’s uneven Covid spread makes states wary of lifting lockdowns

Cassandra Elliott can freely leave Australia for the first time in more than a year and a half, but there’s still no way for

the resident of Victoria state to visit her dad in Western Australia.

Last week, Australia began loosening controls at its international border, which closed early in the coronavirus pandemic.

Fully vaccinated Australian citizens, residents and family members can enter parts of the country quarantine-free,

while those who are in Australia no longer have to get government permission to travel internationally.

But states and territories have also restricted entry to one another for much of the pandemic,

and many of those restrictions remain. The internal border closings have kept Elliott, 32, a writer, from seeing her father on the opposite side of the country.

“My dad is my best mate,” she said.

As Australia’s two most populous states reopen to the world, others are staying firmly shut even to fellow Australians.

Western Australia says its internal border won’t be fully open until next year.

“So my dad and I won’t be spending Christmas together,” Elliott said. “It was really disheartening to find that out.”

A divided reopening Australia closed its international border to noncitizens in March 2020, requiring returning Australians to quarantine for 14 days,

if they could return at all. When virus cases cropped up, officials responded with swift lockdowns, while interstate

quarantine requirements kept them from spreading across the country. The strict policies meant that,

except for one state, much of Australia stayed Covid-free until the middle of this year.

But then the delta variant hit. In June, an outbreak appeared in New South Wales, which includes Australia’s largest city, Sydney,

before spreading to neighboring Victoria and its capital, Melbourne. Both states entered lockdowns, but case numbers continued to rise.

Other “Covid-free” jurisdictions, citing public health laws,

closed their borders completely to both states, threatening fines or jail time if people crossed over. Case numbers in those states and territories have remained at or near zero.

Ian McAllister, a professor of political science at the Australian National University in Canberra,

the country’s capital, said the patchwork of internal borders is unprecedented for Australia and unique globally.

Internal border are easier to close in Australia than in countries, like the U.S., he said, because the population is more dispersed.

With about 26 million people, Australia has a smaller population than Texas, but it is 11 times its size.

Many Australians who have been largely shielded from the virus are now reluctant to follow the “ 

Covid states” of New South Wales and Victoria in accepting its spread.

Both states recently ended monthslong lockdowns after hitting their vaccination targets.

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